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Early Christian Ireland Essays

People in History: A Medieval Monk

A monk copying a manuscript.
Main page: The Middle Ages 

A monk in a medieval monastery.

Learning about monks in the Middle Ages can seem a bit familiar. You already studied early Christian Irish monks, but even though they had some things in common with medieval monks, there were differences too. Luckily, what you learned about the early Irish monks will help you when you're studying medieval monks.

The medieval monks still copied manuscripts and prayed (of course), but they had different buildings in their monasteries, and other jobs to do. Unlike earlier monks, these monks would be members of Orders, such as the Dominicans or the Franciscans. Many of these orders still exist today. Sometimes you might even see a monk walking about town.

So, if you wanted to be a monk in the Middle Ages, how would you talk about yourself? Ignore the fact that you have a vow of silence!

  • Introduce yourself. You can say you are a novice. Why did you want to become a monk? What order are you a member of? Why are monasteries important to people in the Middle Ages?
  • Once that's done, talk about your monastery. What services does it provide to people? What buildings does it have, and what are they for? Who's in charge?
  • Be sure to mention the different types of architecture that were being used for churches in the Middle Ages.
  • Next, your roles and duties. So, when you move on from being a novice to becoming a monk, what vows do you take?
  • What is your role? What other roles are there? (e.g. infirmarian, sacristan, etc.)
  • What do you do every day? Talk about life in the monastery, and the work you do.
  • Before you finish, talk about meals and the kind of food you eat.
  • Then wrap up by talking about the new orders that are being set up. Why is this happening?

So, in short...

  1. You're a novice. Introduce yourself and your order.
  2. Talk about your monastery.
  3. Talk about religious architecture during the Middle Ages.
  4. Talk about the vows you must take to become a monk.
  5. Talk about your roles and the roles of the other monks.
  6. Talk about everyday life in the monastery.
  7. Talk about the meals.
  8. Talk about the new orders that are being set up.


Don't....
  • get confused between medieval monks and early Christian Irish monks. It can happen easily to take care!
  • talk about anything that isn't based around a solid fact like you learn in class. No small talk! 

Making mistakes like that will cost you marks, as the information you write down must be relevant (important). You get 2 marks for every relevant point you make, so try to make sure you have at least 10 relevant points in each answer. The more you have, the less chance you have of losing too many marks if you get anything wrong or mix anything up.

HI1217 Early Christian Ireland c.400-1000

Module Organiser:Professor Seán Duffy
Duration: Hilary Term
Contact hours: 1 lecture per week and 4 tutorials over the course of the term
Weighting: 5 ECTS
Assessment:80% examination; 20% essay

This module deals with what has traditionally been known as Ireland's "Golden Age". Having begun with a brief introduction to prehistoric Ireland, it covers in more detail the period from the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century to the eve of the first Viking attacks at the end of the eighth. The focus is wide-ranging, from early Irish politics and the emergence of a high-kingship to St Patrick and the impact of Christianization, from Brehon law and the bonds of society to the study of landscape and settlement and early Irish farming, and from Hiberno-Latin and Gaelic literature to the visual art that culminated in the creation of the greatest masterpiece of the Golden Age, the Book of Kells.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

  • Communicate analysis and argument in written and verbal format
  • Outline chronologically the key developments in Ireland c.400-800
  • Offer explanations for the key developments in the period
  • Evaluate the significance of those key developments and appreciate their impact on the subsequent course of Irish history
  • Search for, and critically appraise, relevant literature
  • Undertake an analysis of select contemporary records (in translation)

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